Farewell to a Legend

Many an obit and in memoriam ends up being more about the person writing than the person being eulogized. 

But asking around, it turned out that not many people I know ever got to see Dave Brubeck play. If they had, I’d sure want to hear their stories.

So below follows a little about Brubeck, a tiny bit about a time I got to see him play, and at the end, a few pieces of his incredible legacy.

Dave Brubeck would have been 92 today, a laudable accomplishment for anyone, really. His biographical info can be found anywhere, but a few interesting facts are worth mentioning. Drafted, he served in Patton’s Army during WWII, forming a band and later meeting Paul Desmond (who was also in the Army). Time Out is one of the best selling jazz albums of all time, which, if you think about it, is even more impressive considering it’s probably hard for anyone to name another “best-selling” jazz album. Dave was still playing as of last year. When I saw him he was 84, playing — as he did nearly every year — at the Newport Jazz Festival.

The Newport Jazz Festival is a festival of jazz that takes place in Newport (RI). For a while, it was held in New York.

While many great artists performed that year (2006), I was there to see Dave Brubeck. I love the album Time Out, one of my favorites of all time, and could hum it for you nearly note for note. I remember vividly this tiny, frail, white-haired old man shuffle out onto the stage. He looked like the wind could take him with a mild gust, and when he spoke into the microphone, even amplified we had trouble hearing his quiet voice.

He left the mic, and shuffled over to the piano, sitting gingerly on the padded bench. Hunched there, he paused. Then. . .

. . . an explosion the likes of which I have never seen in my life.

Suddenly, this octogenarian ripped into the keys with more energy and voracity than an 8-year-old in a candy factory. It was a Jekyll and Hyde moment so transformative, I wondered if Dr Jekyll had just been putting us on with the whole “old man” routine.

Their set was short, only 3 or 4 songs, lasting maybe 20 minutes or a half hour total. “Take Five,” of course, got the most applause from the crowd. At the end, I remember a standing ovation, or at least, I was standing. It was a tremendous experience.

My all-access pass got me backstage as he was leaving, but I didn’t approach. He was surrounded by people, his own and fans, and I didn’t want to bother him. What could I say anyway? I’m sure it would have spewed from my mouth hole as “Blergeabmea PIANO LIKEY n st’blarg.”

Yeah, like you’d have been able to do any better.

I’ll always remember that hot August day in Rhode Island. The day this senior citizen transmuted into an impossibly youthful form, if just for a moment, by touching the thing that made him a legend.

Time Out on iTunes, 200 Gram Vinyl, and SACD.

Dave Brubeck Quartet at Carnegie Hall, one of the greatest live albums of all time.